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Pay-as-you-throw pilot project for Calgary black bins is costly: City admin

The city would likely save little to no money, it would cost millions to implement and may increase the overall black bin pick up fees, the report read.

There’s little financial advantage for the city’s waste and recycling program to implement a so-called pay as you throw system for black bin carts.

That’s according to an admin report coming to the Community Development Committee Thursday, with a recommendation not to pursue a variable set out pilot project for black bins. Committee members voted unanimously Thursday to not do a pilot project.

City admin said that in 2020 they put a tag-a-bag program in place to have Calgarians that generate more than a black bin worth of waste pay a little more.  They also looked at varied bin sizes but found it would be too expensive.

The latest review, started in 2019, examined the potential to charge Calgarians less if they put their black bins out less often. At that time, then-Coun. Jeromy Farkas questioned if this was viable.

The admin report suggests that it would cost up to $9.5 million to pilot and implement a program like this. The primary cost would be related to developing different billing system, cart management and maintenance and public education.

The technology currently available doesn’t include the proper data for billing. They estimated a 95 per cent accuracy in billing. Still, that could mean 30,000 billing errors monthly, the city said.

“The cost to pilot, implement and sustain a variable set-out program far outweighs potential savings and would result in higher monthly Black
Cart Program charges to all households and frustration for residents due to billing errors,” the admin report read.

Community Development Committee chair, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, said for Calgarians it amounted to choosing between the current bi-weekly pick up and monthly garbage service.

“We then started scoping out the program, and the overall cost of it, it didn’t make the program any cheaper and, in fact, would probably make the program more expensive,” she said.

Black bin variable set out:… by Darren Krause

Increase in monthly fees

According to the admin report, if the program was implemented it could tack on up to an extra $1 per month to the typical bill.

Black cart rates are already rising with the recently approved 2023-2026 Service Plans and Budgets. Charges will be $6.99 per month in 2023, reaching $7.41 by 2026.

In the admin cost/benefit analysis it did mention collection efficiency because of fewer carts to pick up. They also said awareness of waste diversion could be heightened. Calgarians may think more about what goes in the garbage, so they didn’t have to put out a black bin.

After accounting for costs to carry out the pilot and the annual sustainment costs, the city calculated a best-case scenario could save $1 million per year.  If the set out rate among Calgarians is 75 per cent (25 per cent hold it back), there would be no savings at all.

“It’s one of those things that seems so good in theory, but when you scale to 1.4 million people or when you scale to 600,000 homes, or bins or whatever you want to call it, it starts to get complicated and the margin of error grows,” Penner said.